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Thursday, 12 November 2020
Page: 9678


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (12:49): I have spoken about the cashless welfare card in this place on a number of occasions. I have taken the time to visit the trial site of Ceduna, and, with my Centre Alliance colleague Stirling Griff, I have also met many participants, as well as organisations and the police, in the trial site at Hervey Bay. I think it's fair to say that there are mixed views across all four trial sites, particularly the two where I had meetings.

This bill before us, the Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Continuation of Cashless Welfare) Bill 2020, seeks to make permanent the card in its current sites. It also seeks to transition people in the Northern Territory and in Queensland from the BasicsCard that they're on to the cashless debit card, and it intends to expand the card, as well as making it permanent, at any location across Australia at the minister's discretion.

One thing that I will say is that this card has been targeted at working-age payments. I have received a lot of emails from really concerned pensioners, and there's a lot of myth out there, as there often is with pieces of legislation, that this potential piece of legislation, or indeed any piece of legislation around the cashless welfare card, would transition pensioners onto the cashless welfare card. That is fundamentally incorrect, from what has been presented to us.

First of all, I think we need to look at the purpose of the cashless welfare card. In principle, it's designed to assist people to make positive choices with the spending of working-age Centrelink payments and to limit the amount of discretionary spending on alcohol and gambling. The card's divided so that 80 per cent of a Centrelink payment is put on the card, as well as any lump-sum payments, and 20 per cent of it is placed in a person's bank account. I think it's important that we acknowledge in this place that not everyone who is on a working-age Centrelink payment is spending money on alcohol or gambling. These isolated sites were chosen so that thorough research could be undertaken to determine whether the implementation of a cashless debit card had an overall positive or negative effect on the individual and, indeed, the community.

The challenge before us today is that, despite the trials being established for some years now—albeit for a much shorter time in Hervey Bay—the University of Adelaide report that was to look at the efficacy of the card in Ceduna, the Goldfields and the Kimberley region hasn't been released. From memory, I think this report was expected to be released at least a year ago. So to make this card permanent in those four locations, as well as potentially anywhere else in Australia, is quite a significant step in the social services policy area, and we're doing this without seeing any evidence—certainly without the evidence that the government has paid for from the University of Adelaide.

In the previous parliament, I was part of the Select Committee on Intergenerational Welfare Dependence. The committee's chair, the member for Monash, noted in his foreword that 'causes of entrenched disadvantage are complex', and that is true. I would say that entrenched disadvantage cannot be remedied through a card alone. If we really want to address disadvantage, we need to work in the long term with the whole of the family and ensure that there are training and job opportunities there, as well as pathways for people who have various addictions to address them. That committee report was tabled in February 2019, and I ask the government: please, look at the recommendations, and let's implement some of the recommendations. The work of the committee was very good, and it should not just be filed away to gather dust. It was a good report.

Without the release of the University of Adelaide report, in Centre Alliance's decision-making with respect to this bill we can only look at our own anecdotal evidence that we gathered at Ceduna and Hervey Bay. Ceduna was the first community that I visited. I visited it in December 2019 and met with a number of organisations and participants on the card, including the Ceduna day centre, the District Council of Ceduna and the Red Cross. I visited the town camp and the Sobering Up Unit, and of course I spoke with a number of residents who were on the card.

The results in Ceduna that I could gather, I would say, were mixed. If you talk to the District Council of Ceduna, they say the card has been transformational in their community. They say that it's reduced public drunkenness and antisocial behaviour and has increased tourism in the area. These are really good points. The Ceduna day centre said there hasn't been a lot of difference and that people get around the card by buying goods at the local store and then trying to sell them off for cash to tourists or people who live in the town so that they can then buy alcohol. With respect to participants, I spoke to some who were in favour of the card, some who felt that their personal rights were impacted upon, and some who were ambivalent and said that the card had not really affected their day-to-day life choices.

When the card was first introduced in Ceduna, there was a commitment to provide a range of social services for people, to address barriers to employment. To this day, Ceduna is still waiting for residential alcohol rehabilitation centres—any kind of service. All they have is a sobering-up unit. People go in there when they are very, very drunk. When they are able to leave, they just check themselves out. There are no rehabilitation services in Ceduna or indeed for several hours outside of Ceduna. Yesterday I checked on the TAFE website. For Ceduna, there is not one single course available. There is not a certificate I. There is not a white card. There is not a forklift licence. There is nothing. The community of Ceduna has been calling for residential rehab facilities for a long time. They are still waiting. If we are saying to people, 'The best chance of you gaining employment is to gain qualifications and to become job-ready', I think it's incumbent upon government—and in this case for the state government to work with the federal government—to ensure that there are courses available where the cards are located.

For Ceduna it would be really quite simple. Look at what's there: tourism, hospitality. There's no availability for a person living in Ceduna to undertake a certificate I, II or III in care. Yet when I went into the local employment agency in Ceduna there were vacancies on the board for care attendants. How do you get to be a care attendant if you can't do the course?

I visited the community of Hervey Bay with my colleague Senator Griff in November last year. I met with a number of organisations there, including the police. We held a roundtable with participants. I'm very grateful to everybody who gave their time. It must be quite exhausting in these trial sites to have members of parliament, as well as people who are undertaking research, constantly coming to ask questions about how the program is going. In Hervey Bay, police told us they were initially worried that there was going to be a rise in theft, particularly at outlets that sold alcohol. That wasn't seen. When I went to the Hinkler electorate the card was relatively new; I was there in November last year. COVID, unfortunately, has prevented me from returning there, but I would like to see how the card has developed in the area. I think it's fair to say that Queensland Police were keen for the card to continue. I met with members of St Vincent de Paul. I met with a number of other organisations. They, at the time, felt that the card should continue because more time was needed to bed it in and see whether it actually worked.

I met with We Care 2. They provide emergency food relief. They have a supermarket with very low-cost food and they said there had been a significant increase in people purchasing food at the supermarket. You would think that is a very good outcome, but we just don't have the evidence that has been commissioned by government. So again I would urge the government to release that report.

We did hear from participants who were concerned that the card had failed them in supermarkets. I understand that many of those teething issues have now been addressed. People were concerned initially that the card had the word 'Indue' on it. People felt that was discriminatory and they were anxious about having a card with 'Indue' on it. Again, I understand that 'Indue' has been removed and it's now a grey credit card just like many grey credit cards. But the great challenge we have is that the government has not presented the evidence. When you are looking at making something permanent, the parliament has a right to see the evidence for it. But we haven't seen that yet.

Everyone wants to live in a society where people have every opportunity to transition from Centrelink welfare into employment, but we need to make sure that we are working with people to make that transition. That means ensuring there are education opportunities. That means ensuring there is access to rehabilitation. We don't have that for those places yet.

I'll touch briefly on remote Aboriginal communities that are facing the transition from the BasicsCard to the CDC. The government hasn't done its homework here yet, and COVID has made it a challenge. But at this stage, without proper consultation—and also given the fact that remote communities do not have the internet connectivity you require to check the balance on your card—the government should not be moving people in the Northern Territory and in North Queensland over to the card. It should be a voluntary decision.

Where does Centre Alliance sit? At this point in time, we will not be supporting this legislation. We would support a continued extension of the trial in the four trial sites. However, that really would be the government's last chance. The government needs to put in the rehabilitation facilities that it promised in Ceduna. It needs to have those in all four trial sites. It needs to provide comprehensive education opportunities. No person living in Ceduna who jumps on the local TAFE website should see not a single course available. There is no chance for them, without skills, to get into employment. That would be disheartening. If a person has an addiction, knowing they can't access services is just not fair. We need to ensure that those services are put in place in all four trial sites, if we want to ensure that we give every opportunity to a person who's living in any of those four sites.

The government needs to invest in some longitudinal data. I would suggest the Hervey Bay region, seeing none of the research has been undertaken at that site. We need to look at whether this card is really working. We just don't know. It's a vibe at the moment; we just don't have the details. We need to know whether the card is reducing family violence and alcohol and substance misuse and doing what its goal is—supporting people to transition from welfare into employment. At this time, we don't have the evidence so we can't support this legislation.